Audience Insights: Organizations Overlook the Most Important Clues

Clues for increased satisfaction and visitation are often right under the noses of cultural organizations. I frequently hear executive leaders Read more

Do Expansions Increase Long-Term Attendance? (DATA)

Sometimes it feels like nearly every cultural organization is taking on a major expansion project. But do these projects Read more

Over 60% of Recent Visitors Attended Cultural Organizations As Children (DATA)

You may have guessed it was true – but here’s why this statistic matters. The idea that those who visit Read more

Cultural Organizations: It Is Time To Get Real About Failures

Hey cultural organizations! Do you know what we don’t do often enough? Talk about our failures. It’s a huge, Read more

How Annual Timeframes Hurt Cultural Organizations

Some cultural executives still aim for short-term attendance spikes at the expense of long-term financial solvency – and they Read more

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

Special exhibits don’t do what many cultural organizations think that they do. If fact, they often do the opposite. Read more

social media strategy

Why Using Social Media For The Sake of Using Social Media Hurts Organizations

social media symbolsConducting contests that none of your online audiences are interested in, spending copious time on the newest social media features (that none of your audiences are using), measuring success by vanity metrics, and building out features that nobody is asking for…why do organizations do these things? They don’t help support bottom lines like getting folks in the door, building affinity, increasing donor support, or sharing knowledge if they aren’t relevant to your market or strategically integrated into an engagement plan…. and yet organizations brag about these useless endeavors to their boards and at industry conferences.

Many organizations seem to be feeling so “peer pressured” to be utilizing social media that they are using it to do stupid, time-consuming things for audiences that don’t matter (often, so that they may secure “innovation” points within the industry. Many museums, in particular, are guilty of this one). Your audience that does matter, however, is often left thinking something like this.

Using social media for social media’s sake is dumb. Let’s quit it. Want to impress the nonprofit next door (and also your donors and supporters)? Actually be good at running your organization and using social media to do so. A big reason for this problem is deep-rooted in how organizations view “digital” engagement. Specifically, many view social media as a tech skillset and not a strategy for building relationships with living and breathing human beings.

Doing social media for social media’s sake is like being expert at hammering a hammer but not knowing how to use it to build a house. You purposefully become expert at using the tool…but you forget that the whole reason that you have the tool is to actually build something. Hammers (social media) can help us build bigger and stronger houses (organizations) if we do something more than bang the floors with them.

Here’s why the rampant bad practice of using social media for social media’s sake is (at best) a distraction and, more likely, a stupid and capricious waste of time, talent, and resources:

 

1) It does not accomplish anything

Several questions should be considered before carrying out a digital initiative (or any initiative, for that matter). Some of those questions may be:

  1. Who will this initiative serve/who do we want it to serve?
  2. What do we want this audience to do in the near and long-terms?
  3. How does this initiative help us achieve our stated goals?
  4. “So what?” Or rather, what is the reason why this audience would be interested in this initiative? How is it relevant to them?
  5. What need does this initiative help serve?
  6. How will we capitalize on gains from this initiative with this audience (i.e. what will be the next step in the engagement process for them)?
  7. Does this initiative have value to our desired audience?

Only after contemplating these questions can one determine if an initiative is worth the required effort. If your organization has trouble answering any of these questions – or if the answers are too broad or inconclusive (e.g. “targeting all social media audiences” rather than a subset), consider altering the initiative so that it meets a strategic engagement need or opportunity. Know exactly who you are talking to with the initiative, why it is helpful/relevant to them, what you want them to do, and how you’ll keep them engaged. Most stupid initiatives have only resolved one or two of these things.

 

2) Providing the opportunity to participate does not mean that people will participate

The “If you build it…” mentality is categorically false. Just because you launch an initiative does not mean that people will take part in it. I don’t know why some organizations still overlook this fact. If you’re asking people to take an action that just has too high of a barrier/requires too much effort or doesn’t fulfill a relevant want for them, then they probably won’t do it.

I’m often asked things like, “How can we get more people to participate in our photo contest? We’ve done everything!” The answer depends on what you had hoped to accomplish by launching that specific contest. If you’re targeting the audience and they aren’t biting, chances are your specific initiative is just not going to provide the value you’d hoped because, well, the market has spoken and they are saying, “Nope. Not interested in doing that thing.”

 

3) It wastes resources

Resources can be tight for nonprofit organizations – and time is money. You may as well dedicate your time to spinning in circles in your office instead of carrying out social media for social media’s sake. In fact, that might even be better because it may cause you less stress than having to answer the question, “So…why was that strategically beneficial for us in the long term?”

 

4) It makes social media buy-in harder in the long run

On that note, carrying out several initiatives that aren’t strategically integrated into an engagement plan may make executives wonder what your engagement plan even is! Carrying out social media “bells and whistles” can be like crying wolf. How can executives (let alone your audiences) know which initiatives are important and which are for vanity? These types of initiatives may be especially difficult to reconcile if you don’t even have baseline practices down like social care.

 

5) It misses the point of social media

I refer again to my opening analogy about how social media for social media’s sake is like becoming really good at hammering, but not knowing how to use a hammer to build a house.

 

If you don’t know how that new, “cool” thing that you are doing on social media supports and enhances your organization’s bottom lines, then it’s probably a waste of time, money, and energy. Utilizing social media to strategically engage audiences is not only a good move – it’s increasingly critical.

Lest the signal be lost amidst the noise: The important word in the preceding sentence was “strategically” – not “social media.”

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends Comments Off on Why Using Social Media For The Sake of Using Social Media Hurts Organizations

Audiences Are Changing on Social Networks. Is Your Nonprofit Ready?

social media party

Here’s help to make sure that your social strategy can hold up to inevitable change.

This article is part of a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

While many professionals conceptually understand that audiences and behaviors on specific social media platforms shift over time, there seems to be a disproportionate concern among organizations about how to react to these types of changes. This concern may indicate a need for a broader, more integrated online strategy to best communicate your unique brand attributes to your audiences.

There seems to be a general sense of worry among organizations about Facebook’s evolving demographics in particular (younger audiences may be spending less time on Facebook in favor of other networks) and what this means for an organization’s engagement strategy. Facebook, with over 1.23 billion active monthly users as of January 2014, remains the most utilized social media platform – and, yet, somewhat shockingly, I’ve overheard leaders at multiple organizations frustratingly say things along the lines of, “This whole shift means we need to really reassess our strategy and reconsider if we should be on Facebook.”

Really?!  Did organizations think that all audience segments were only on one platform and would forever only be on one platform? Organizations should be prepared for both changes in the number of platforms that audiences use, and shifts in the ways that audiences actually use them.

Here’s how smart organizations approach these (and other inevitable) demographic shifts and social media evolution that we are sure to see in the very near future:

 

1) Make change a constant in your digital communications strategy and adjust accordingly (and accept that this approach may contrast a more traditional, slow-moving nonprofit mentality)

 

Shifts in platform usage are entirely expected, and if your organization finds itself surprised by evolving usage patterns, then that surprise – in and of itself – is cause for concern. Organizations should anticipate changes in who is using specific social media sites and how they are using them.

Social media platforms are constantly changing (which are utilized and how). This understanding is a cornerstone of an effective social strategy. The rapidity of social media evolution is the genesis of many organizational tensions, including: difficulties in measuring true key performance indicators related to social media; ever-increasing staff needs related to digital engagement; and the perils of “writing in stone” an engagement plan that becomes functionally irrelevant weeks after its publication. Digital engagement simply doesn’t work this way. To be effective, tactics must evolve to best meet audience needs while serving your organization’s broader strategies.

If your organization is paralyzed by the concept of shifting demographics and the evolving uses of specific social media networks, then it may indicate that your organization’s social media strategy is too focused on tactics and not sufficiently thoughtful of overarching marketing goals and strategies. For instance, a strategy may be to utilize content to improve your reputational equities as an expert on mission-related topics with a goal of increasing financial support. Posting a specific status on Facebook that is related to your mission (but also relevant to your audience on that platform) is a tactic. If you need to change that specific status to best serve a different audience than that which may have been on Facebook a year ago, then that specific tactic has evolved. When considered this way, can you see how extreme preoccupation (rather than acceptance) of the need to evolve tactics may be indicative of a lacking or unclear overarching strategy?

In short, updating your strategy may be difficult but updating your tactics should be expected. If it’s too hard to update your tactics, then you may have tactics standing in for your strategy…and that’s no strategy at all.

 

2) Keep tabs on where your market and supporters are/are going as social media networks evolve (and they will). Be present at those parties.


Remember: you need your community of supporters more than they need you. Act accordingly by making it easy and by providing compelling reasons for your audiences to connect and engage with you…or they won’t.

Stick with me here (because I love bad metaphors): Let’s say that your potential supporters hang out at a reoccurring, weekly party. Things are going great! You totally hit it off with the early adopters drinking a microbrew on the lawn, you spend time talking long-term goals with the preppy, high-achievers on the porch, and you also make time to bond with folks who are already your good friends in the kitchen. You’re building and maintaining relationships. This party seriously rocks!

…Until the early adopters decide to start spending time at another party…and the preppy folks from the porch attend a different party yet. You’re torn (and, because you’re a nonprofit, your resources are limited, which makes this even more frustrating).  Suddenly, your potential reach has lessend because you are no longer building relationships with key market segments who may profile as important influencers and supporters.

Because the market is the arbiter of your organization’s success, it’s generally best for you to keep on top of where your audience is and what they are doing and go to them.  As we head into the madness of March, at IMPACTS we offer a quick tip familiar to any basketball junkie: “Beat the market to the spot.”  In basketball and business alike, it’s the difference between shooting free throws and fouling out of the game.

Go with your key stakeholder or target audiences to the new parties and, once you’ve determined which parties are worth your energy (more on this to follow), then be ready to greet “old friends” as they arrive.

 

3) Understand that digital platforms are not mutually exclusive and multiple (thoughtful) presences often allow for more effective influence as platforms evolve


If your organization can only be in one place at one time, then consider expanding your resources because you may be missing or mishandling too many “touch points” to be effective. There may not be a single “magic pill” social media site that allows for the most efficient or effective influence on all of your audiences.

Let’s go back to my earlier party metaphor: Thanks to the web, it’s possible for an organization to have a presence at more than one party (or, on more than one platform). That said, we still need to make a decision: Knowing that having a presence on additional platforms takes resources, being on which platforms will be the most efficient use of our resources?  Nonprofits don’t need to be on every social media platform – especially if they cannot put proper energy into that platform. (If you go talk to those hip folks on the lawn, but you come off as a true outsider or barely make an effort to communicate, then you’ve done yourself more of a reputational disservice in being there then you would have been simply staying away.)

Decide which platforms are worth your time and energy based on where your market is most heavily influenced and you will have the most effective “touch-points.” But know that – increasingly – this is likely more than one platform (though 73% of adults focus on five social networks, sometimes certain platforms may be ripe for more targeted audiences). When demographics and uses change, respect the communities that you’ve already formed online. The quality of your fans is more important than simply pursuing reach, and be very cautious about abandoning one platform for another without careful consideration of how this will affect your current community. (Preempting the assumption: No! Many current users will not immediately follow you to another platform.)

The increasing fragmentation and micro-segmentation of audiences – such as young users spending less time on Facebook and more time on other platforms – may indicate that your organization should be prepared to be in more than one place at one time.  In turn, this may necessitate re-allocating resources to maintain connections and foster engagement with your online audiences.

In sum: Yes – millennials (or others market segments) may leave Facebook or other platforms, but, NO – it shouldn’t be something that strategic marketers necessarily need to worry about. Right now, Facebook remains a primary engagement tool for a majority of the market that is active on social media. That could (and likely at some point will) change. If your organization 1) has a solid strategy and identified goals, 2) thoughtfully continues to consider the value of each platform while making execution decisions, and 3) understands the possible need to cultivate extra resources to engage audiences on multiple platforms, and then your organization will not only easily adapt to changes without a hitch, but it will thrive.

 

*Photo credit: ed Social Media

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 2 Comments

Inequality: A Nonprofit Social Media Best Practice

stand out fish 1“All men are created equal.” No doubt you’ve heard that before, and no doubt I’d have a hard time finding a public-service motivated nonprofiteer who would disagree with that sentiment. I personally agree with it…except when it comes to social media. And if you’re a smart nonprofit organization, you may risk the efficacy of your entire marketing strategy if you don’t understand that inequality of social media followers should be a founding principle in your social media plans.

Simply put, your organization’s fans and followers are not all of equal value to your nonprofit’s relevance and long-term solvency – and treating every ‘like’ the same way means purposely sabotaging your ability to achieve organizational goals through social media. Some types of fans and followers are much, much more important than others in terms of increasing amplification, spurring visitation (if you’re a visitor-serving organization) and inspiring donations.

Like most matters of organizational strategy, social media is about “knowing where your bread is buttered.” Many nonprofit organizations misunderstand the distinct importance of unique online audiences or individuals, and instead, calibrate their efforts to the average “potential supporter.” Forcing striations of unique audiences to a “mean” misses opportunities for deeper, more meaningful engagement with higher-value individuals and wastes precious resources trying to attract folks that aren’t likely to engage with your organization beyond a status “like.”

As a reminder, many of the “rules” of real life (both social and business-related) generally apply to social media – perhaps foremost amongst these truisms being Pareto’s Principle (i.e. the “80-20” rule).  Applied to social media, Pareto holds that 80% of your engagement and support will come from but 20% of your audience. 

So what audience members should demand most of your social media attention? Pay special heed to these folks:

 

Members/donors

Sounds obvious, huh? Does it sound so obvious that the person running your social media channels has access to a list of members and donors right now? Probably not. (Quick! Email or print a list and run it over! It’s cool…. I’ll wait here.) If you’re like most visitor-serving nonprofits, membership and marketing/communications operate separately, and this separation often means that this critical (and very simple) little action item has been overlooked… along with several others.

In fact, this overlook is indicative of a necessary shift in how we think about the relationship between marketing and membership in the digital age. As I’ve mentioned before, membership increasingly needs the marketing department to function – not the other way around. However, your organization needs both departments to keep its doors open. Contemplating the role of social media in cultivating donors and members is a must for organizations. Knowing who these supporters are and where their interests lie provides the marketing folks with the information that they need to a) identify these individuals; b) pay special attention to their interactions on social sites; and c) utilize this information to inform content strategy to ensure that these high-value individuals remain actively engaged.

A goal of social media for many organizations is to inspire visitation and cultivate donors (and social media is pretty darn good for that). As a little hint: those who have already proven their affinity through membership or a donation are likely to be those who will support you again and potentially provide ongoing support. If you don’t know who they are and what they like (or you’re missing an opportunity to target specific content to these audiences), then you risk losing this valuable, precious market to a competitor (for-profit or nonprofit) who is paying better attention to their wants and needs.

 

Influencers

Influencers are bloggers or other content-creators with a high-perceived word of mouth value across a range of personal networks. This is the category in which the elusive and powerful “mommy bloggers” make their appearance for many organizations. If properly cultivated, content creators provide a trusted voice to share your mission messages.

Ample data support the importance of targeting Influencers as a key component of an organization’s social media strategy. For example, 29% of consumers trust blogs over other forms of digital marketing, and blogs are even more likely than Facebook to influence a purchase decision. Influencers aren’t just bloggers. They are also active on other social media platforms. But beware to judge the strength of an Influencer simply by their follower numbers. Influencers with smaller, more focused followings sometimes have more influence than those with a larger following.

A little bit of paying personal attention can go a long way in inspiring affinity.  On a personal note, I really like to run. Though my tribe on social media is generally nonprofit and/or marketing folks, Brooks (the running shoe company) pays special attention to me. They send me free running shoes and, in turn, I know that they want some link-love and positive word of mouth when I just can’t help but share a race-related update…and I’ll give it to them willingly. Why? Because they simply let me know that they are paying attention to me. They have mentioned this blog. They keep track of what I like. I feel like they know me. I have purchased far more of their gear as a result of these efforts than the cost of their investment, and just learning a bit about me could not have taken more than five minutes of their time. There’s both a lesson and an opportunity here for nonprofits.

Another personal example? My alma mater’s Twitter account sometimes converses with me and other alumni. Without being asked, I made an online donation last month simply because they occasionally remind me that they are paying attention to me and make me feel like part of a community.

Social media unleashes the same dopamine that is released when you physically interact with someone, and we get a physiological and psychological rush of this feel-good chemical when we share things on social media. Nonprofits may do well to capitalize on this phenomenon to build affinity among those Influencers who can amplify your messages and cultivate more/higher-level visitors and donors. The broad action items are rather simple: 1. Identify these people. 2. Uncover their personal points of connection to your organization. 3. Start a conversation. Good-case-scenario: you’ll have cultivated a potential supporter. Awesome-case-scenario: you’ll have cultivated a socially influential supporter.

 

Evangelists

Evangelists are folks who have a high level of affinity for your organization’s mission and brand. These people like you (they really like you, not just Facebook-like you) and pay close attention to your content. They think you’re cool, interesting, and just downright important. High-level Evangelists are often also members or donors – and they may be Influencers as well. Some Evangelists may be non-members who are likely to share your message or support your organization with a visit (if you’re a visitor-serving nonprofit), and are ripe and ready for another level of engagement – say, providing support by attending a special fundraising event.

There are varying levels of Evangelists, and this is a broad term that we use for “folks who like you and want to help you.” They do this in different ways: Some may provide financial support, but the most common method of support that I observe is via the re-amplification of your messages. At the risk of over-simplifying this audience, these are your Facebook “sharers” who promulgate your content to their networks.

To be clear, the vast majority of people who “like” you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter (or any other platform, for that matter) are NOT higher-level Evangelists. In fact, most of your audience on social media channels likely falls into a “low-to-mid-level Evangelist” category – occasionally engaging with your organization from time-to-time but without making the brand a clear part of their online identity. To be sure, these lower-level evangelists are important. Content should aim to spark a connection with them to bump them into higher-level categories. However, these folks are not nearly as important as those who speak out about you and consistently let their friends know that they “real-life-like” your organization. Organizations should focus on higher-level evangelists because they are your likely repeat visitors and have potential to lend real-life support – either through valuable word of mouth marketing or future financial contributions.

Among online audiences, real-life donors/supporters, Influencers, and Evangelists are the most important folks to target with your nonprofit PR strategy. The quality of your fans is far more important than the quantity of your fans on social media platforms. If your organization isn’t paying special attention to key audience members, then your social media strategy is likely leaving both money and mission-amplification on the table. And these are things that most organizations cannot afford not to lose.  Not all audiences are created equal.

 

*Image photo credit  belongs to nexlevelvision.com

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter!

 

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 2 Comments

How Generation Y is Changing Museum and Nonprofit Membership Structures (DATA)

Looking for a copy of the address that I delivered at the Iowa Museum Association Conference last week? You can find it here.

Millennials (folks roughly between the ages of 18 and 33) are the largest generational segment of the U.S. population. This generation has different values and mindsets than those of the generations that preceded them – and they are far too large in number for museums and nonprofit organizations to ignore. Organizations that are not marketing to millennials are not only missing an opportunity to reach a new audience, but failing to engage the audience that will increasingly dictate their organization’s operations for the next 40 years (at least).

But it isn’t just marketing departments that have begun incorporating changes to appeal to Millennials. The changes must be incorporated into a larger community relations and nonprofit PR strategy. Because online engagement is increasingly critical for buy-in among all generations, it must be applied not only to marketing, but also to fundraising. Membership teams, in particular, will need to re-work their operations and offerings in order to sustain and grow their number of supporters. In fact, IMPACTS has already uncovered the need for museums to revise how they tell the story of membership benefits.

While conducting research on behalf of a prominent visitor serving organization (VSO) with a conservation-related mission, IMPACTS uncovered an interesting finding. We asked respondents a series of questions related to identifying what they consider to be the primary benefits of membership to the organization.  Once compiled, we found that sorting frequency of mention and strength of conviction information uncovered a telling divide between potential members above and below age 35.

Free admission was the pronounced, primary benefit of membership for both age groups. However, benefits two–through–five on the lists do not have any additional commonalities. Moreover, the type of benefits are very different.

Extant data indicate that members of Generation Y are public service motivated and appreciate a feeling of belonging and connectedness with one another and with a cause. This is consistent with the responses gathered from millennials in the data above. Instead of being interested in the more “transactional perks” of membership, this generation desires a feeling of connectedness with a broader social good.

Because members of Generation Y want different things from museum membership than generations before them, museums will need to adapt how they are selling memberships – or at least work to increase connectivity-to-a-cause vibes. Would a person considering membership to your organization feel that they are “making a positive impact” more than simply receiving “advance notice of upcoming activities?” Museums and visitor serving organizations must sell memberships by focusing more on their public services and social responsibilities than the traditional, more transactional benefits that motivated membership in the past.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Millennials, Sector Evolution, Trends 7 Comments

Why Offering Discounts Through Social Media Is Bad Business for Nonprofit Organizations

There’s significant data compiled by multiple sources indicating that “getting discounts” is the top reason why people engage with an organization’s social media channels. So it seems logical that if you want to bump your number of fans and followers, offering discounts is a surefire way to go. And it works – if your sole measure of success is chasing these types of (perhaps less meaningful) metrics. But, before you go crazy with the discount offers on Facebook and Twitter just to get your “likes” up, here’s another thing that’s true: Offering discounts through social media channels cultivates a “market addiction” that will have long-term, negative consequences on the health of your organization.

I recently wrote a post called “Death by Curation” within which I shared data indicating the non-sustainable cycle that museums enter when they must rely on new, progressively more expensive “special” exhibits in the hopes of achieving attendance spikes (what has since been referred to by a reader of this blog as “Blockbuster Suicide”). In many ways, offering discounts creates a similarly vicious cycle whereby a visitor-serving organization finds itself realizing a diminishing return on the value of its visitation.

When an organization provides discounts through social media it trains their online audience to do two not-so-awesome things:

 

1) Your community expects more discounts

Here’s where your organization breeds an online audience of addicts accepting discounts…and, strangely enough, becomes addicted to offering discounts itself. Posting a discount to attract more likes on Facebook (or to get people to engage with a social media competition, etc.) will very likely result in a bump in likes and engagement. But know that in doing this, you are verifying that your social media channel is a source for discounts. Discounting for “likes” attracts low-level engagers (they are liking you for your discount, not your mission), and prevailing wisdoms increasingly suggest that your number of social media followers doesn’t matter. It is far better for your brand and bottom line to have 100 fans who share and interact with your content to create a meaningful relationship, than to have 1,000 fans who never share your message and liked you just for the discount.

I can hear the rumbling now: Some of you are thinking, “But we’ve used discounts to attract more likes and it worked” (i.e. it generated more likes). Over time, however, these low-level engagers will stop following you if you do not continue to offer discounts. That is, after all, the reason why they followed you in the first place…and you have shown them that, yes, you will post discounts on social media. This is the start of the addiction: In order to keep these likes, you need to offer more discounts.

Try this: Simply stop offering discounts. Over the course of a few months, your number of likes will go down (because these people only liked you for the discount, not your awesome, socially conscious content). They were not actual evangelists – and cultivating real evangelists to build a strong online community is the whole point of social media. You want folks who actually care about what you’re doing and will amplify your message (not the “we are offering a discount” message – which is the content that, unfortunately, frequently gets the most shares and perpetuates this cycle).

 

2) Perhaps more importantly, your community waits for discounts

Here’s where becoming an addict takes a toll on the organization’s health. Data indicates that offering coupons on social media channels – even once – causes people to postpone their visits or wait until you offer another discount before visiting you again. Worse yet, the new discount generally needs to be perceived as a “better” offer (i.e. an even greater discount) to motivate a new visit. This observation is consistent with many aspects of discount pricing psychology, whereby a stable discount is perceptually worth “less” over time. In other words, the 20% discount that motivated your market to visit last month will likely have a diminishing impact when re-deployed. Next time, to achieve the same outcome, your organization may have to offer a 35% discount…and then a 50% discount, etc. You see where I’m going with this…

Here is the debunking of another popular misnomer that some organization’s use to justify their discount tactics: You are not necessarily capturing new visitation with discounts. In fact, data from the company for which I work suggests that the folks using your discount were likely to visit anyway…and pay full price! This is a classic example of an ill-advised discounting strategy “leaving money on the table.”

To compound matters, instead of hastening the re-visitation cycle, the “waiting for a discount” phenomena may actually increase the interval between visits for many visitors. The average museum-going person visits a zoo, aquarium, or museum once every 19 months. If you offer a discount, while you may not attract a larger volume of visitation to your organization, you may accelerate your audience’s re-visitation cycle on a one-time basis. This sounds great…until you realize the significant downsides to this happening: Your audience just visited your organization without paying the full price that they were actually willing to pay and they likely won’t visit your organization again for (on average) another 19 months. On top of all this, IMPACTS data illustrates that the steeper the discount, the less likely visitors are to value your product and return in a shorter time period.

Think of it this way: A visitor coming to your museum in May 2012 would likely visit again in December 2013 (i.e. in 19 months). Let’s say that you offer them a discount that motivates them to visit in October 2013. Now, you’ve linked their intentions to visit to a discount offer…and decoupled it from what should be their primary motivation – your content! And, by doing so, you’ve created an environment where content as a motivator has become secondary to “the deal.” In other words, you will have moved your market from a 19-month visitation cycle to a visitation cycle dependent on an ever-increasing discount. Can your organization afford to keep motivating visitation in this way?

So, how do museums get addicted to discounts, too? Well, we sometimes confuse the response (i.e. a visit) to the stimuli (i.e. a discount) with efficacy. Once a discount has been offered to motivate a visit, we regularly witness the market “holding out” for another discount before visiting again. And what are museums doing while the market waits for this new discount? Sadly, often times the answer is that they are panicking.

If you run a museum, you’ve probably spent some time in this uncomfortable space – we observe the market’s behavior (or, in this case, their lack of behavior), and begin to get anxious because attendance numbers are down. What’s a quick fix to ease the pain of low visitation? Another discount! So we offer this discount…and, in the process, reward the market for holding out for the discount to begin with. This is the insidious thing about many discounting strategies: They actually train your audience to withhold their regular engagement, and then reward them for their constraint. We feed their addiction and, in turn, we become addicted ourselves to the short-term remedy that is “an offer they can’t refuse.”

Like most addictive – but ultimately deleterious – items, there is no denying that discounts “work” – provided that your sole measure of the effectiveness of a discount is its ability to generate a short-term spike in visitation. But, once the intoxicating high of a crowded gallery has passed, very often all that we’re left with is a nasty hangover. My advice to museums and nonprofit organizations contemplating a broad discount strategy on social media: Just say no!

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 6 Comments

Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Uncertainty

(Or, 5 Things You Need To Know When Developing and Carrying Out a Social Media Strategy)

Adopting social strategies- such as taking on innovative social media initiatives requires institutions to change how they think about communications. Creating this change requires removing four, distinct barriers: buy-in, radical trust, uncertainty, and resource issues. I have discussed buy-in and why social media is critical for institutions, and most recently, I gave an example of radical trust in action in the ZAM (zoo, aquarium, museum) community. Today’s post is on uncertainty- the biggest beast of the bunch.  Also, the cartoons here are by the wonderful Tom Fishburne

Uncertainty regarding “proper” use of social media and social network integration is a logical reason to be hesistant about taking on social strategies. There are hundreds of social media platforms and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. To make things even more interesting, I’d guess that most people are conversant on less than half of these top fifteen most popular social networking sites. This doesn’t mean social networking sites aren’t extremely important. It does mean that there’s a lot of chatter going on in regard to social media, and it is critical to delve into social media with a clear understanding of what you hope to gain. Otherwise, you risk getting lost in the “noise” surrounding online engagement. Whether you want social media to inspire audience connections to get folks to buy an on-site ticket or make a donation, or you want to educate potential visitors, start a revolution, or just raise awareness of your brand, a clear goal for each initiative- and your overall strategy- is absolutely imperative. For instance, if your goal is to drive ticket sales but link paths do not end up on the ticketing website, then there’s a huge missed opportunity to meet your goal.

Managing and developing social media strategies on behalf of an organization is not for the easily distracted, but it is a job for the open-minded and curious. Knowing (roughly) what’s happening in the social media world is important because it allows you to explore new opportunities, but it’s also important to keep your eye on the ball. The best folks I have found are those who say, “Holy cow! This random, new social networking site is sweet!” and then step back and ask themselves if it helps meet their organization’s stated goals in a creative and engaging way. If the answer is no (or it’s not worth the resources), they simply sigh and register for shelfari personally. In fact, this is a good transition to my first point below.

5 things that you need to know when developing and carrying out a social media strategy:

1. There’s power in your people.  Some professional social networking sites for museos allow individuals to connect,  in turn strengthening their organizations. Social media lives in a world where the personal and the professional mix together. And like most incredible things, this is both a risk and a terrific opportunity for reward for organizations. Employees can share links with their own personal/professional networks, which has high word-of-mouth value. Help them do that by creating a social media policy. ..Ugh. I hate the word “policy” in the name for this common document because it implies a rule, and a rule implies that you don’t really trust your people. It’s important to trust your people…but a good social media policy empowers people simply because it states clearly and openly what is allowed and what is not. In my experiences with organizations, this has been especially important with young people, including teens and interns. I love Gen Y (holler to my people), but it’s true: the youngest of us are sometimes lacking a filter online. A good social media policy inspires these natural, online connectors and creators to work their magic and share their stories. Next generation engagement for your ZAM? Your young people will do it naturally. Empower them. Have a clear social media policy that allows them (and others) to do their thing and even mix personal and professional. Let them be real, but also let them know any boundaries. Your legal department also thanks you in advance.

 

 2. For social media non-users, help them understand.. especially if they are a gatekeeper for compelling organizational content. It’s obvious: if nobody on your PR team knows much about creative engagement online, then there’s no key champion for developing and carrying out social strategies. If nobody on any of your teams knows much about social technology (I stand by it: good social media doesn’t belong solely to the communications folks), then it’s even harder. To make matters worse in zoos and aquariums, unknowing husbandry staff can be the biggest bottlenecks for signing off on messaging and creating transparent videos and photos that build online connections.This makes sense when it comes to precious animals with low survival rates. Some zoos and aquariums have rocking caretakers with a social presence, but for other organizations, clearing up uncertainty around social media and getting everyone on board and comfortable with it is no small task. It’s still critical. Baby-step this relationship because it’s important. These folks are sometimes treasure-troves of valuable, connection-inspiring anecdotes for online engagement. Let ’em know!

 

3. Your breakthrough will happen when you realize that it’s not about you. Here’s another one where it looks like Captain Obvious took over my blog, but this is a really hard lesson- especially for some of our best and brightest traditionally-trained marketing folks. It’s just a different way of inspiring connection with a brand, and it’s critical online. Transparency and trust are key to an effective social strategy. Inspiring engagement means inviting folks inside of your organization and creating a relationship in which they have the ongoing opportunity to peek behind the scenes. This requires not “selling,” but “sharing” your product/mission. Talk to your online audiences like you would talk to a friend. Be human. Putting up sturdy walls to protect the organization will backfire. In fact, the more you trust your audience and make it about them and their relationship with you, the more they will likely trust you in return. For a great example carried out by the Shedd Aquarium, visit my last post on radical trust. A sure way to break trust online and alienate online evangelists? Break news in print or on other sites before it’s released to your online audience (though breaking it at the same time is fine). You can think of your online community as special, online “members.” They are involved. They are special. They want to talk to a person, not an overly-professional, opaque, robot-like professional entity. (Grabbing my computer back from Captain Obvious and moving on…)

 

4. Test it. Fix it. Repeat. It’s not usually going to be an immediate success. I know that’s not cool. Your strategy will be a success over time, however, if you take the opportunity to listen to your audience, ask for feedback, are open about the initiative, and don’t get too attached to how you originally began doing things. You must do what best meets your organization’s goals. One of the best examples of this is when the Brooklyn Museum famously discontinued Twitter and Facebook accounts for their 1st Fans program. They wrote about it on their blog and shared their experience. In the end, they moved their strategy to meetup.com. In sum, they assessed how each platform was working for them in regard to reaching their goals, shared findings and were transparent with audiences, didn’t give up on social media but picked a platform that worked best for them and most of all, they weren’t apologetic about ditching platforms (even the most popular ones) that didn’t help them meet their goal of using social media to facilitate on-site engagement. Giving up 1st Fans on Facebook? Ballsy, some might argue. But it’s working for them.

 

5. Own it. It’s an active platform, not a passive one. That means you cannot just hop on Twitter and expect for it to make any amount of difference at all. If you’re going to put your organization on any social media platform, it is important that you keep it up-to-date and active or you should close the account. Even if your staff isn’t logging on every day to check out your Twitter feed, other people are seeing it. If it’s forgotten, your brand looks messy and you organization looks out of date and disorganized. That’s not a good way to look, especially if you are a museum fighting the old reputation that these institutions are stagnant,increasingly-irrelevant places (lies…). There’s more to it than just being active on social media if you have an account. You need to treat each platform differently. The tones and uses of even Twitter and Facebook are very different, so directly Tweeting Facebook statuses is a marked “fail” most of the time.

 

6. Social media and social strategies are evolving. So have confidence and be innovative. Only risks and new initiatives can push the envelope and help all of us to discover the incredible potential of social media and social networks. Individuals are spending an increasing amount of time on social networks. There’s an opportunity for exploration in this realm. By the same token, social media still takes an bit of experimentation to see results. It is not just the future. It is most certainly now.

 

And, because it never hurts to be overly-explicit, here are some things you probably already know, but you can take them for the road:

  • Pick measurable goals. Pick some that you can manage, such as responding to every inquiry on social media within two hours or aim to have two-point people for each initiative.
  • Buy-in from upper level management is critical, especially if you have the ability to take some risks and do some learning.
  • Don’t try to take on everything at once. It likely won’t be as effective if you don’t have a grasp on each part. Do what you can, well.
  • If you’re first starting, devise a strategy that you are sure you can sustain, but shoot for some creative initiatives.
  • Get pumped and let your personality (the organization’s personality) shine through. Also, if you don’t believe in what you’re doing and saying online, nobody else will believe it either. Nothing’s worse than a droopy social media presence.
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends Comments Off on Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Uncertainty

Inspiring Institutions to Embrace Social Strategies: A Formula for Change

Over the next several weeks starting today, I will be featuring posts on the topic of inspiring change to prepare nonprofit organizations to adapt to social strategies. 

Within the last month (hence the hiatus), I graduated with my master of public administration and secured a terrific new work opportunity with a research and development company with the bulk of my work focused on zoos, aquariums, and museums. Or ZAMs, I’ve heard them called affectionately. I like that shortcut. ZAMs sound cutting edge and efficient, much like these institutions strive to be and often are, despite the historically bad rap of nonprofit sector operations.

The company I’m doing work for uses market data and predictive technologies to help organizations make strategic decisions. There are lots of numbers involved in this process, all holding terrific significance to the success or failure of a plan. My colleagues turn right brain theories turn into left brain equations. If math is the universal language, then it makes sense to think of equations as guiding principles for even basic operations. Like the nickname of ‘ZAMs,’ this mingling of left and right-brained thinking provides helpful shortcuts for simplifying complex ideas. For example, complex ideas like how to create change within both an organization and within society as a whole. On second thought, large-scale change may be an overwhelming place to begin. Let’s start with institutional change- more specifically, institutional change involving the incorporation of social media strategies into common practice… Let’s do this.

For the next several weeks starting today, I am going to attempt to aid nonprofits in embracing social innovation by introducing an equation for change (That’s the pretty equation at the top of this post, folks!)  I will provide resources to help organizations combat each of  the four biggest barriers to embracing the incorporation of social strategies: buy-in, uncertainty, radical trust, and resources. 

I created the image above based on a lesson in Professor Robert Myrtle’s Strategic Nonprofit Management course at the University of Southern California. I think it’s helpful to think about change in this way. It requires three, key ingredients that must add up to be greater than the barriers to change:

(a) Dissatisfaction with the status quo- When creating change, it helps when business-as-usual is failing and the people who will need to make change happen already know it. In order for change to happen, individuals must understand that something is indeed broken and must be fixed. But this doesn’t need to a literal thing that is broken; it can be an element of workplace culture. For instance,  in the case of sparking change toward creating social strategies, the ‘broken’ thing could be lack of periphery or a lack of vision. It could be a workplace culture that does not value innovation and keeping up with the times in regard to the increased connectivity and information share that is booming with the social media revolution. Folks must know that this element of negative workplace culture exists, and they must be unhappy about it.

This may be the hardest element of the equation to realize, because people often get comfortable with business as usual, and dissatisfaction with the status quo often doesn’t take place until after competitors have raised the bar. In other words, sometimes this dissatisfaction only happens after an organization realizes that they’ve been left behind. For instance, there are still museums that still don’t even have a Facebook account (11% of AZA organizations have 100 or fewer ‘likes’ as of May, 2011). Those museums may note experience dissatisfaction with the status quo until they realize that most other museums do have accounts– and more than that– that most other museums are experiencing increased ticket sales, membership rates, program enrollment, and monetary contributions in large part because of their embrace of social platforms. Workplace culture is very important for this reason. An organization that strives to evolve will feel dissatisfaction with the status quo faster than an organization that makes change a last resort. The former will create change in order to lead the industry. The latter will create only as much change as is necessary to remain relevant, or worse: to keep the doors open.

(b) An understanding of the desired future- In order to change, folks must have an idea of how they want the changed organization to function. Everyone should understand what that changed organization will look like. This is an important step in creating institutional buy-in for change. It requires a clear and compelling leadership team to communicate the vision and make it understandable to everyone in an organization. If you’re going on a trip to Europe, you’ll be much better prepared to make specific, actionable vacation plans if you know your stay will be in Italy. You’ll be even more prepared if you know that you’re spending your time in Rome. Similarly, if everyone works together to discover exactly where they are going (or would like to go), then everyone can work together to get there, and everyone can better relate to the organization’s vision because they understand it.

(d) And knowledge of the first step to get there- We’ve likely all heard Lao Tzu’s famous quote, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Hopefully, integrating social strategies into an organization’s general mentality won’t be a thousand-mile journey. Even if we call it a marathon of 26.2 miles (or a short 5k), understanding the first step is equally important. Plans and timelines are helpful. Social media strategies, though some smart folks say you don’t need one, can be helpful when explaining how integrating online communications will take place. These plans make goals feel more achievable, and the first step must be digestible and understandable. Returning to the topic of Rome, it wasn’t built in a day.

In order for change to take place, so the theory goes– and I think it’s a quite practical theory– these three elements (dissatisfaction with the status quo, an understanding of the desired future, and knowledge of the first step to get there) must be greater than the barriers to change. So what are those barriers for change in regard to integrating social strategies into museums, cultural centers, and other nonprofits? I’ve merged replies from a survey sent out to AZA organizations and my own understanding and experiences with obstacles to integrating social strategies and categorized them into four, main barriers:

1. Buy-in 

  • Does social technology contribute to our bottom lines?
  • How do you measure engagement?
  • What is the value of engagement

2. Uncertainty

  • What does a social strategy mean and why is it important?
  • How exactly do I use social tools?
  • What if we try it, and audiences aren’t engaged?
  • What are the rules for employees and where are personal and professional lines drawn?
3. Radical Trust
  • How do we control content?
  • What if someone says something bad about us?
  • What if someone shares incorrect information on our page?

4.  Resources

  • Who is going to run this?
  • How much time will it take?
  • Will we have to offer a lot of discounts?
Check back over the next four weeks to share your own words of wisdom regarding integrating social media and ‘thinking socially’ into an organization’s culture. Each week, a different barrier will be discussed. Please contribute with stories of your experiences or any aid that you might have so that we may help produce a helpful resource!
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 1 Comment